Freelance journalist and Contributing Editor to GQ magazine Rebecca Newman chats to us about her adventures in the snow, re-discovering her mojo, and some great tips on how to get back into the swing of the ski slopes.
Half way down a not especially challenging slope I realised I’d lost something. My mojo. And my balance. In fact I had pretty much lost my desire to ski. While I’ve never been the world’s greatest downhill racer, I adore the mountains and relish skiing as a blast of fresh air, adrenaline and camaraderie. Having missed a few years to have kids – now age two and three – and been thrilled to come back I was surprised and miffed to find myself stuck. So I booked myself straight back the following week to do a Warren Smith course.
Of all the ski academies, Warren Smith is a particularly good fit for women as he is sharp on the body’s biometrics: women have a different hip girdle from men, and hence how especially important it is for us to work on keeping our knees apart – more on this later. He also has thought a good deal about how to overcome the psychological obstacles which leer up on steeper terrain, and has some fantastic (yet simple) exercises designed to help clients break through them.
On the first day, we are assessed and sorted into groups according to ability. Our group was evenly mixed between men and women, each of us wanting to break through to a higher level both on and off piste. Watching the videos with our kind, insightful (and hot) instructor Rob it was clear that at the most basic levels we needed to shift our weight into the centre of our skis, and keep our skis parallel to each other – resisting the urge to snow plough or lift one ski off the ground when the going is challenging.
Across five days (with a rest day in the middle) we worked, and we played, across the mountains in a range of terrain. Often he videoed our progress, and we regrouped to watch ourselves with his expert commentary. While we each brought our own issues, for me the initial message of flexing my ankles and hence pressing my shins forward in my boots was the most transformative – and a marvellous single thing to focus on in times of stress. I skied the sunlit but steep(ish) face of Mont Fort merrily shouting PRESS as I forced myself into each turn. Somehow, it worked. I got down a route which a week before I would simply have clung to, and more, I enjoyed it.
Of course, the ideal for anyone wishing to reconnect with their inner ski tiger would be to find the Warren Smith crew either in Verbier, or in Cervinia. Otherwise here are some of his tips.
Before you go:
You can achieve a lot at home by promoting new skills and body movements in a ‘controlled’ environment without the intimidation of steep slopes, poor visibility and other distractions.
*Initiating a turn should involve moving your hips down the hill, ‘into the void’ around the time of the pole plant. The movement is completely counter intuitive, so we often incorrectly attempt to begin the turn by throwing the shoulders down and around.
Correction Exercise: Wall Falls
By standing a couple of feet away from a sturdy wall you can simulate the hip falling movement by actively pushing the hips into the wall repetitively. 4 SETS OF 50 in each direction should take no more than 15 minutes and the results can be huge in terms of your muscle memory.
*The distance between your hips, knees and ankles should remain the same when you ski. If you let your knees drop in together, your skis are no longer going to move symmetrically, which can cause problems on more challenging environments. (In my case, it encourages me to adopt the squatting position’). Maintaining good position will, however, require adductor strength.
Correction Exercise: Lateral Control
On a polished floor, stand with each foot on a piece of cloth. Pull your feet toward each other at the slowest possible speed.
Try to pull in about 10 times in a set and repeat that about 4 times. If you trained with this exercise 3 to 4 times a week you would certainly switch on control laterally in your stance when skiing and help avoid the legs dropping in at the knees or splitting away at the feet into the dreaded A-Frame. You would end up skiing with a P-Frame (power frame) and conquering all the terrains you dreamed about skiing with performance and control in your legs.
For more info, check out Warren Smith Ski Academy.